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Learning by Doing: ‘We Actually Touch Stuff’

Science Kits Encourage Hands-On Projects


Ava Vandenberg doesn’t have anything against computers. But give her a pinch of salt, a splash of Kool-Aid and a handful of chocolate chips, and she has a new outlook on school.

That’s the benefit of a hands-on science project utilized at Zinser Elementary School. Called “Foss Science,” it allows students to gain firsthand knowledge of how a mixture of common household items contributes to science.

“It’s different than computers in that we actually touch stuff,” said Ava, a fifth-grader who hopes to become an engineer. “And then we try to discuss what it was all about.”

In addition to using the Foss Science kit’s collection of funnels, filters and screens in conjunction with ordinary materials such as salt, Kool-Aid and pebbles, the would-be scientists use the Foss curriculum to create their projects.

Developed at the University of California Berkeley’s Lawrence Hall of Science, the program combines research, hands-on tools and strategies to foster “a deeper understanding of both the natural and designed worlds,” Kenowa Hills Assistant Superintendent Mike Burde said.

“Scientific knowledge advances when scientists observe objects and events, think about how they relate to what is known, test their ideas in logical ways, and generate explanations that integrate the new information into an understanding of the natural world,” Burde said.

Teacher Christy Huizen said her fifth-graders work together on the projects. The results of each investigation are discussed and tracked in their composition books. Each project is tied to a core subject such as math and reading. The project could be expanded to second- and fourth-graders next year.

Huizen said the students have responded positively.

“We want to engage the students in learning science,” Huizen said. “The response has been great. It’s hands-on and the kids retain what they learn. It’s touching, smelling — that’s new to some of the kids. They like it.”

Students work on a Foss Science project at Zinser Elementary School

Figuring Things Out on Their Own

Huizen said the project’s benefits include the possibility of improving science test scores while learning a new vocabulary. “We try to discuss what (projects) are all about every time we have science,” she added.

Those discussions can be a welcome change from ordinary classwork, said Ty Dominic, who would like to become a mechanic.

“We get to do a lot of exciting things rather than just seeing a teacher do it,” Ty said. “I like it because it helps you figure things out for yourself.”

Burde said science involves both content knowledge and how that applies to everyday life. Engineers, for example, apply their understanding of science to real-world problems.

“Science is a discovery activity, a process for producing new knowledge,” he said. “The best way for students to appreciate the scientific enterprise, learn important scientific and engineering concepts and develop the ability to think well is to actively participate in scientific practices through their own investigations and analyses.”

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